Tuesday, November 4, 2008

2008 Positional MVP Picks: Second Basemen

For this round of positional MVP picks, we move from a traditional power position (first base) to a position where offensive production was long considered a bonus rather than a primary responsibility. Although the days of second basemen being almost exclusively glove men are decades past, there are still far fewer sluggers up the middle of the diamond than at the corners, which made writing Installment #4: Second Basemen more of a “balancing act” than previous positional MVP lists.

Put simply, choosing which metrics to apply to second basemen to determine their relative worth was far more difficult than the “offense is everything” approach I took for first basemen. Middle infielders may be expected to contribute more offensively now than they were forty years ago, but they still have to be strong defensively, so simply scanning the offensive leaderboards won’t tell the whole story of a second baseman’s season. Fortunately for me, there are far fewer top-tier second basemen (both offensively and defensively) in the major leagues than there are first basemen, so the need to account for defense didn’t result in a need to spend an absurd amount of time poring over extra statistics.

In fact, narrowing the field to seven or eight players was actually quite easy, and once I started crunching numbers, the top five pulled away from the rest of the pack pretty convincingly. An honorable mention goes to Mark DeRosa, who had an excellent year at the plate (.285/.376/.481 with 21 HR), and kept pace with numbers four and five on this list offensively, but whose defense (though solid) and VORP (35.7, 6.8 runs lower than my pick for #5 and 15 runs lower than #4) kept him from cracking the top five.

The gap between DeRosa and the rest of the field this year is, in my mind at least, significant, particularly since I still privilege offensive statistics over defensive statistics at second base—both due to their higher reliability and due to my belief that offense, even for middle infielders, is more important to winning ballgames than defense.

Here’s the top five:

5.) Dan Uggla’s batting eye is starting to catch up with his power stroke, resulting in 2008 being Uggla’s strongest season in the big leagues. The Florida second baseman hit .260/.360/.514 for an OPS of .874 (OPS+ 128) with 32 HR, a .296 EqA, 25 win shares, and a VORP of 42.5. He set career marks in OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, HR, and BB despite playing in fewer games (146) than in either of his previous two seasons.

Uggla may not have the best glove at second, but he’s not a liability, and he certainly isn’t as bad as he looked during the All-Star Game. Uggla’s range factor (RF) for 2008 was 4.86 (well behind the top glove men, but not exactly terrible), and although his zone rating (ZR) was a bit low at .803, his revised zone rating (RZR), which takes into account plays made outside a fielder’s “zone,” was a slightly more impressive .812, good enough for 11th among qualified fielders.

Uggla is in the Marlins lineup (and on this list) for his bat rather than his glove, and his mediocre fielding marks don’t undo the value he adds at the plate. However, they do prevent him from climbing higher than 5th on this list.

4.) Brian Roberts may not have anything even approaching Uggla’s power, but he’s a better fielder and an excellent top-of-the-order hitter. Roberts’s 2008 line was .296/.378/.450 with 9 HR and 51 doubles for an OPS of .828 (OPS+ 117), a .295 EqA, 21 win shares, and a VORP of 50.6.

The Orioles second baseman also stole 40 bags against only 10 CS for an 80.0% success rate (as opposed to Uggla, who was 5-for-10 in 2008 and is 13-for-25 over the course of his three year career), which was a major factor in pushing Roberts’s VORP 8.1 runs higher than Uggla’s.

Defensively, Roberts really pulls away from Uggla. Roberts’s 4.98 RF, .829 ZR, and .829 RZR were all higher than Uggla’s marks, and, coupled with his superior baserunning skills, made the Orioles second baseman the more valuable player in 2008.

3.) Ian Kinsler continued to develop into one of the top second basemen in the big leagues in 2008, hitting .319/.375/.517 with 18 HR, an .892 OPS (134 OPS+), a .311 EqA, 26 win shares, and a VORP of 54.6. Like Roberts, Kinsler can run, swiping 26 bases with only 2 CS for a 92.9% success rate, and Kinsler has significantly more power than the Orioles second baseman.

What makes Kinsler’s offensive numbers even more impressive is that he ended the 2008 season on the disabled list and only played in 121 games. Had he played in 20-30 more games, he may have overtaken one or both of the players ahead of him on this list, at least offensively.

On the defensive side, Kinsler is a bit more difficult to evaluate. His 5.77 RF led all Major League second basemen, but his .819 ZR and .801 RZR are much less impressive. Kinsler is so good at the plate that he’s an easy choice for #3 on this list, but his defensive shortcomings and partial 2008 season prevent him from climbing any higher.

2.) Dustin Pedroia has a very legitimate shot at the 2008 AL MVP (in fact, he’s my pick to win the award), and although I don’t believe he should be this year’s MVP, he certainly put up some impressive numbers: .326/.376/.493 with 17 HR, 54 2B, an .869 OPS (122 OPS+), a .298 EqA, 26 win shares, a VORP of 62.3 (tops among Major League second basemen), and 20 SB in 21 attempts (a 95.2% success rate).

Pedroia was solid defensively, as well. His 4.75 range factor is unimpressive, but he did a good job at handling what he got to, posting an .854 ZR and .829 RZR, and although I think it is a potentially misleading statistic, it is worth noting that Pedroia was second at his position (behind only Mark Ellis) in FPCT at .992.

My problem with Pedroia’s likely AL MVP award is not that I don’t believe he is a deserving MVP, but that, like Cliff Lee’s all-but-inevitable AL CYA, Pedroia’s award will probably be for the wrong reason (wins for Lee, and Boston’s playoff berth for Pedroia). Pedroia was the most valuable American League second baseman in 2008, and he was the most valuable player on the Red Sox this season, but the AL MVP should be about more than just the most valuable player on a playoff-bound team. However, Pedroia is not a bad pick for the award, so I won’t be terribly upset if he wins it, though I would cast my all-too-hypothetical vote elsewhere.

1.) Chase Utley once again put together a monster year, particularly for a middle infielder, in 2008, posting a line of .292/.380/.535 with 33 home runs (and 78 total XBH!) for an OPS of .915 (OPS+ 135), an EqA of .308, 30 total win shares, and a VORP of 62.2 (only 0.1 behind Pedroia’s). Utley, like Pedroia, was efficient on the basepaths, racking up 14 SB against only 2 CS (87.5%)—not an overwhelming total, but Utley is a 3-hole hitter rather than a leadoff man like Pedroia and Roberts, and he bats in front of Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell, both of whom rack up a lot of XBHs.

Not only did Utley have a better (or at the very least, more multi-dimensional) offensive year than any other second baseman on this list, he had a better defensive year as well. His 5.18 RF was fourth among all second basemen, and his ZR of .844 and RZR of .839 were third and fourth, respectively. Of the other second basemen on this list, only Uggla had a better RF (5.77 to 5.18), and only Pedroia a better ZR (.854 to .844); Utley’s RZR was tops among my top five.

Put simply, no other second baseman excelled at so many facets of the game as Utley did in 2008 (and 2007, and 2006, and 2005…). He hit for power, he got on base, he ran the bases well, and he fielded his position superbly, and was an easy choice for the top second baseman of 2008.


  1. I'm amazed at how close Pedroia and Utley are in VORP. Utley has 10 points of EqA on Pedroia and drops f-bombs on live television. He'd be my pick too.

  2. Never underestimate F-bombs. Cole Hamels was originally my top second baseman for that exact reason.